The Canadian International Cooperation Minister, Bev Oda, is reimbursing taxpayers for the hired car and driver she booked during a trip overseas. This followed her saying earlier that she had paid all inappropriate travel costs back. Her office didn’t confirm exactly how much she is paying back for the London rental car, which was booked last summer, but media suggests that the figure is around $3,000.
According to a document that shows Oda’s travel expenses, obtained by media through access to information legislation, the London car hire cost $2,850 last June. Last Thursday, her office said the minister had repaid the car service bill and all additional costs that should never have been paid by taxpayers. However, the office didn’t say specifically what the costs included.
On Monday last week, Oda apologised to taxpayers for billing her stay at the luxury Savoy hotel in London, rather than the five-star Grange St Paul she had originally booked. She spent about $665 a night at the Savoy, which is more than twice the cost of staying at the other hotel. Her luxury hire car and driver was also billed to taxpayers, which cost about $1,000 a day. It was used to transport her from the Savoy to the conference she was attending in the British capital, which was only a distance of two kilometres.
The story of the travel expenses made headlines last Monday, and Oda originally said she didn’t have anything to be embarrassed about and that all guidelines from the Treasury Board were followed when the expenses were filed for the three-day stay in London last June. However, the following day she said the costs were unacceptable and shouldn’t have been charged to taxpayers to begin with. She repaid the difference in cost between the two hotels, as well as the cancellation fee for the original hotel booking. The total came to $1,353.81, after adding in an outrageous $16 orange juice.
However, this total didn’t include the cost of the car rental, and opposition MPs called on Oda to repay the expense as well. This is because the hired car and driver wouldn’t have been needed if she had stayed at the original hotel, where the conference was being held. They say the car was a cost related to her switching hotels.
Additionally, Liberal Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) critic Mark Eyking has compared Oda to Marie Antoinette. He says he’s offended that $380 million has been cut from Canada’s foreign aid donations in the recent Tory budget, but a minister is being allowed to spend as she wants. It’s cruel for her to indulge when she’s supposed to be helping third-world populations devastated by AIDS, malaria and other illnesses.
On Wednesday, however, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan suggested that Oda wouldn’t make any further payments. He said that she repaid the inappropriate costs and believes that’s what the public and opposition would expect. He doesn’t think she would be asked to repay appropriate costs.
On Thursday, opposition MPs continued to question the matter, and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae asked the minister when she planned to repay taxpayers for the car service as well. Instead of answering the question, Van Loan said the government expects ministers to conduct business at reasonable costs, which is why Oda repaid the inappropriate amount. He used the sponsorship scandal as an example and said Liberals should repay taxpayers for money still owed them.
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